Newman | The Positive Paramedic Project #49 Bake birthday cakes

Cynthia Herbert, New York City teacher, reunites with her rescuers at the FDNY’s 18th Annual Second Chance Brunch

A nugget of Big Medicine every day. #49 Bake birthday cakes

On average, when someone suffers sudden cardiac arrest, irreparable brain damage occurs within four to six minutes.

On average, in a big city, the time between recognition of a life-threatening event and the arrival of a trained and equipped emergency medical responder is more than eight minutes. Out here in the country, if someone shows up within eight minutes we’d have to laminate the date on the calendar as a Miraculous Moment.

Do the math.

I guess that until you save someone’s life with an automatic external defibrillator [AED], it is hard to grasp the incredibly positive impact these devices can have. I know first-hand what it is like to use an AED to save another person’s life.

A 50-year-old woman had collapsed at the office. Her colleagues had recently been certified in CPR as part of a workplace safety initiative. They immediately called 911 and began cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

I was part of the first response team that arrived at the woman’s side a few minutes later. We were equipped with an AED. The machine functioned perfectly and after the second shock was delivered, we could feel the patient’s pulse.

By the time she was loaded into the ambulance, the woman was breathing on her own. After several days in the hospital, she went home to her family.

A little more than a year later, I received a card from the woman and her family thanking me for giving her a “second chance at life.” The card contained a photograph of her entire family gathered together for a special birthday celebration on the date we had used the AED to save her life.

I will always remember that card because it described all the family celebrations she was able to attend and all the people who had been touched because her life had been saved.

My only regret is that our EMS service hadn’t thought of hosting that birthday celebration. We really should have baked a birthday cake for each member of that still-rather-too-unnecessarily-exclusive club. We should have taken a note from the FDNY.

FDNY EMS has been hosting a Second Chance Brunch for 18 years. Every year, this special event reunites people who have survived cardiac arrest with the people who helped save their lives.

Among the survivors honored this year was sixth grade teacher Cynthia Herbert, who works at the Doctor Rose B. English School in Brooklyn. She was teaching class on Sept. 15, 2011, when she suddenly collapsed. Her students, knowing she had a heart condition, ran out of the classroom and notified other teachers and staff.

The Assistant Principal called 911 as physical education teacher, Alina Salner-Washington, identified that the woman was in cardiac arrest, began CPR and used the defibrillator, saying, “The training I have just kicked in.”

Minutes later, EMTs Raul Perez and Ricardo Otero arrived alongside Paramedics Andre Pierre-Louis and Howard Henry. The EMS members shocked her with the defibrillator and inserted a breathing tube before beginning hypothermia treatment, which involves administrating intravenous cooling fluids to preserve brain function during cardiac arrest.

When we got her back, it was joyful,” Paramedic Henry said.

Many other FDNY members arrived and continued to help with care as she was transported to Brookdale Hospital. She went back to teaching just four months later.

Can you imagine how much safer it would be if every office building, arena, bank branch, place of worship, school and shopping mall had automatic external defibrillators readily available? I believe AEDs ought to be right below the smoke detector and right next to the fire extinguisher on as many walls as possible. If you’re building/renovating a home or condo, include an AED in the plans.

Save lives. And then bake birthday cakes.

Be well. Practice big medicine.


PostScript: And while I haven’t asked her, I know she can do it. If ever you need a birthday cake that incorporates an AED, Ambulance or Paramedic in its design, you need to talk with the Canadian Country Cake Artist Ronna Mogelon. Check out her cake creations on Facebook – including the amazing poutine cake.

NB: Big Medicine is my nod of respect to a First Nations expression that, roughly translated, means the right people working together at the right time will be Big Medicine. I’ve been saying ‘Be well. Practice big medicine’ for as long as I can remember. It is my own very personal version of ‘Sawu Bona’, the Zulu greeting which means ‘I see you’… I see all of you, I see your good works, I see the difference you are making in the world.

Newman | The Positive Paramedic Project #18 Serve

CSL EMS training sesson on a Phyio LP. Circa early 1990s.

A nugget of EMS organizational wisdom every day.#18 Serve.

One of the girls on a U-8 soccer team was having a breakout season. She had steadily increased her contact and control with the ball and had even turned away a few hard shots as a practice keeper. Her dad told me that she was having a good time with soccer after having given up part of the way through last season.

She lost interest after her coach had benched her because her skills weren’t up to his perception of par. The coach had benched a seven-year-old kid who was playing house league soccer for the first time in her life. Clearly the coach had forgotten his role was to serve the needs of his players, the league, and the community – and not the other way around.

On a visit to the mid-Atlantic region of the United States, I visited with a colleague of mine in the fire service who told a strikingly similar story.

A local volunteer fire/rescue company was on a fundraising drive. Their district had an extraordinarily high concentration of senior citizens and their single ambulance was extremely busy. Another four aging-in-place residences were in various phases of construction in the neighbourhood.

Observers, such as my colleague, were impressed the volunteer service was proactively raising funds which surely would be used to replace, and perhaps supplement, the lone ambulance in their station. The fundraising was a grand success. They raised enough money to purchase three ambulances and provide specialized geriatric emergency care training for their paramedics. And then they went out and bought a shiny new ladder truck.

The ladder truck they already had was not at the end of its service life. They did have several highrise buildings in their first-due running district yet the number of times their ladder truck had been deployed on working incidents was less than a tenth of the number of times their ambulance had to be backed-up by another station because it was already on a call.

Their members talked about how having the new ladder truck was good for morale and how if it was involved in saving only one life it was worth the investment.

The aging residents of the community were not solicited for their comments. My colleague wondered what they thought about while waiting, short of breath or with crushing chest pain, for an ambulance to come from further away while the shiny new ladder truck caught sunlight on the tarmac.

I am staggered by the number of similar stories I have heard since soliciting my network of peers for their experiences with services which have redefined their relationships with the communities they are supposedly dedicated to helping.  Redefined as win-lose. The organization and its members win. The community and its members lose. Another town, another story about forgetting why we’re there. To serve.

On the flip side, I live in a small town barely inside the borders of Quebec where it meets Vermont. Our town has one ambulance. The next-due ambulance will have a 20-30 minute response time if all is well with the weather and the roads are relatively clear.

One local paramedic, a young man by the name of Justin Dewey, decided that what this town really needed – and could afford – was a network of strategically-placed Automated External Defibrillators [AEDs]. And so, with support from his colleagues and buy-in from the community, Justin went out and found the money and the partners and the locations and the AEDs.

Wherever you are in Stanstead you are never more than a few minutes from the closest AED. They started with six units two summers ago and Justin continues to build on that number all the while advocating for the importance of Citizen CPR and first aid.

The kid paramedic is a dynamo who is redefining the concept of serving one’s community through EMS and providing lessons in inspiration and leadership along the way.

Be well. Practice big medicine.